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Friday, September 16, 2005

The Other Red Cabernet...

I'll admit it: I'm a member of the "A.B.C." (Anything Chardonnay / Cabernet Sauvignon) wine club, especially when it comes to American wines. Chardonnays are over-manipulated by many winemakers to be popular with the tony, yet not so enologically sophisticated, country club crowd. Cabernet Sauvignons also tend to be produced in a rather heavy-handed manner, exclaiming a "big, bold red is best" mantra. Worse, these varietals (relative to their quality) tend to be much too expensive! That said, an exceptional Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon can be a pleasure to behold.

But, in the $15 per bottle range and under, we can do better.

To maximize the quality/dollar ratio requires a strategy. In general, two tactics seem to work best: 1) buy wines that originate in less popular locales (e.g., avoid Napa/Sonoma and Bordeaux/Burgundy wines), or 2) buy less popular, but equally enjoyable, varietals from around the globe (e.g., pass on Chardonnay for Chenin Blanc; skip over Merlot for Malbec).

So, let's get started with one of my favorite alternative reds...

Wine of the Week:
Ironstone Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, California, 2002

Tasting / Winemaker's Notes:

"[This wine] is known for its balance and medium body. The nose is full of bright berry fruit and violets with green pepper and a soft tobacco-like undertone. Flavors of blackcurrant give way to luscious, juicy black cherries with a full and elegantly soft finish.'"

My Review:

For me, the Cabernet Franc by which all others are judged is Peju Winery's masterful treatment of this most deserving grape. Unfortunately, Peju's version (which is sold out for this year) sells for $40 per bottle -- clearly not an everyday drinking wine. Yet, I love this fruity but sophisticated varietal and have been searching for an affordable version.

Ironstone's Cabernet Franc ($6.99 at Total Wine & More in Tampa, FL) represents an admirable effort. In general, I agree with the winemaker's notes. The wine is of medium body and color (thinner and lighter than the $40 Peju). Likewise, this wine's soft nose lacks the richness that I admire in the Peju. In the mouth, however, the wine comes into its own: vivid fruit flavors burst forth. And, the wine finishes gently.

Clearly, this is not a Peju Cabernet Franc. However, it's not intended to be. Ironstone's creation is a lighter variation that's fun and highly quaffable. This Cabernet Franc would pair well with most food dishes, from the hearty to the spicy. That said, it's also an enjoyable stand-alone drink while just hanging out with friends on a Friday night.

At $15-20 per bottle, I'd call it disappointing. But at $6.99, I call it a steal.

Quality/Value Ratio: $$$$ (out of five $'s)


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